Friday, June 28, 2013

A Knowing

Intuition ability to cut through the thickness of surface reality. Intuition is like a slow motion machine that captures data instantaneously and hits you like a ton of bricks. Intuition is a knowing, a sensing that is beyond the conscious understanding.   --Abella Arthur                                                                                             
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, June 25, I rolled over in bed, smiling, raised up on my elbows and said internally but emphatically:  "You lived an EXCELLENT life, you raised 8 wonderful kids;  you raised me-- BY YOURSELF-- and look how fabulously I turned out!  You did a lot with a little!"  My earnest tone in this internal dialogue portrayed pride and praise.   Still smiling and now fully awake, I opened my eyes and looked down as I ran my fingertips over the inside of my left forearm.

I remembered I meant to pray for Mama.  I clasped my hands together with my index fingers pointed outward, and began to pray out loud: "Please Lord, comfort her. Please let me and Mama spend the week after the 4th together."  It was just a little over a week away.  

I'd saved this "Three Piece Microwaveable Comfort Spa Set" that Curtis, the man I tutored in the Adult Literacy program, had given me for Christmas, and I was going to use it to give Mama something like a spa day during our week together.  There was a slipper set, and spa wrap and an eye mask-- all with "herbal aromatherapy".   I'd warm them in the microwave and make some "to do" out of it, give her a little massage, maybe.  On the phone with Mama last Friday, I'd reminded her that we'd visited our long-ago neighbor Miss Gertrude when I was home for Memorial Day, and told her maybe we'd pick her up when I was home for 4th  of July to have a little cookout.   I made a mental note to really look for my cameras; it would be great to make some videos.

There was a Homedics foot massager in a box on the floor at Miss Gertrude's when we visited. 
"What is that, Gertie?"  Mama asked.
Miss Gertrude said, "You put your foot on there, and you rub it across, and it makes it feel good."
Mama said, "OH MY!  You're pampered!"
Miss Gertrude said,  "I got one on right now!"  
We all laughed at Miss Gertrude's joke.  Former neighbors during their child-rearing years, they now giggled and clutched each others hands in their dotage, one 86, the other 92.  Miss Gertrude began to weep when she realized it was Mama coming through her door.  "Proc!" she exclaimed; a nickname that she and my father had for Mama. She'd just buried her youngest child two days before, she said.

On Memorial Day, I got up to leave for the 8 hour drive home at 5 am.   I looked in Mama's room; she was fast asleep.  I started in, then turned back; I didn't want to wake her up. Sleeping through the night was often elusive for her these days; I'd be back in a few weeks, after all.  I went out to the car, started it up and was ready to hit the road when, typically, I discovered I'd forgotten something.  This time it was my phone, still plugged in to charge on the table in the den.  I headed back in, got the phone and peeked in Mama's room.  She was lying in bed wide-awake, staring at the ceiling. The alarm on the front door, installed to alert my sister to Mama's nighttime wanderings, must have awakened her with my comings and goings.
 "THERE you are!"  I said, entering the room and kneeling on the floor beside the bed.
"Where you been?"  she asked.
 "I'm getting ready to go back home and I forgot my phone. I looked in here a little while ago,  but you were asleep."
"I wasn't asleep" she said.  "I've been up for a long time, waiting on you!" 
I knelt beside the bed, then felt time expand; slowing. This could be the last time I see her alive.  I became wholly present, sensing the need to say something reassuring, permissive, even.  Instead, I drank her in.  My eyes swept across her face... the freckles on her cheek that began to run together in middle age, making her proclaim, "I'm brown now!";  those babydoll eye lashes jutting straight out from her eyelids (much to her chagrin-- she wanted them to curl up);  the little skin tag beneath her left eye that I also had before I got mine zapped, her button nose.  

I ran my fingertips over the skin on her inner forearm.  I'd become enamored of it in recent months. I wanted it photographed-- professionally, with lighting--or as near as I could muster myself if I could ever find my camera.  I told her again how pretty I thought her skin was, so sheer, so delicate, the undulating folds like gift tissue paper, transparent and seemingly fragile; revealing the veins and sinewy muscle beneath it.  

She didn't think it was pretty at all, of course, but before she could assert as much this time, I struggled for the right thing to say.   
"You are SO blessed to have SO MANY people that love you so much."
 "I AM?" she said, astonished.
"Yes,"  I said. "Remember all those children and grandchildren and great grandchildren that came for your birthday party?"  I began calling off names.  "You are really blessed to have so many people who love you. I don't have that."
" I am." she agreed.
When I visited during Veterans Day weekend last November,  my mom had no recollection of my having been there barely 4 weeks earlier, for Columbus Day, though I had been there for a full week then.  When I went in to say goodbye before setting off to drive home after having just dropped her off from an hours-long outing we'd had, she was surprised to see me, asking "When did you get here?!"   Alright. I thought at that moment;  this is serious.  I became convicted to have a surprise birthday celebration for her in a couple of months so the next family gathering wouldn't be for her funeral.

Her birthday is New Year's Day and we had the celebration on the last Saturday in December. We had a great time. Over 30 family members came, her kids, their kids, spouses;  filling the room with love, laughter and gifts.  She thoroughly enjoyed herself, especially with her great-grandchildren.  A few hours after the celebration ended, when my sister and I sat with her reading cards and opening presents, she had no recollection of the party.  Every few minutes she'd say "Where did all this stuff COME from?!"

Since that time, Mama was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia.  My, and my sister's, sense of relief was palpable.  Not long after, we both scoffed: just because we knew what it was wouldn't make it go away. 

About 11:30 on Monday morning,  June 24, my sister texted me a picture of Mama with the caption, "So Sad."  She was sitting in a chair in her condo in what had become my sister's room, with her PJs and bathrobe on, with her hair 'all over her head'.   I texted, "Why is she sad?" hoping against hope that there was some external cause for the sadness, and not that her condition was saddening.  She had been doing so well, so often and for long stretches recently.  Much of the time she was her usual self.  "She's in a crisis, that's what's sad", my sister texted.  "In crisis" refers to episodes of  confusion and sleeplessness often marked by delusions and visual and aural hallucinations that are symptomatic of certain types of dementia.  I enlarged the picture after I got my sister's response, and was disturbed by what I saw in Mama's eyes:  it looked like panic.  I rejected it out of hand.   "Alright." I thought, reflexively, and closed the picture immediately, putting the phone face down. that's enough

I looked at the picture again later in the day, enlarging it further, just to confirm.  There it was again; Mama sitting in her PJs and bathrobe in a chair in the guest bedroom of her condo.  Her hair unkempt; her eyes and facial expression portraying panic.  Alright.  I declared to myself again, that's enough.

'Alright' is my 'go to' word when I've had enough of a situation; usually involving  indecision or confrontation.  With that utterance, I either seize control or cede it; but the matter-- for me-- is resolved.  I had no idea what it meant in this case.   

I deleted the picture.

I cried while driving home from work hours later. Thinking of Mama, I picked up the phone to call, then put it down.  I decided to wait a few minutes til I picked up my son so he could talk to her too. Maybe I'd have him call; she always asked about him, and it had been awhile since they'd spoken. When I pulled up in front of his Dad's house, I started punching in Mama's home phone number. Three numbers in, I was interrupted by an incoming text from my sister: she was at the hospital with Mama; they were doing some tests, more information would be coming soon. 

My son and I went to see Now You See Me.  It was an engaging distraction,  tears only sporadically slipped down my cheeks.  I checked in with my sister after the movie.  They were going to admit Mama to ICU for fluids and antibiotics and more tests. It sounded relatively innocuous, but I wondered what happened to send them to the hospital in the three hours since I'd last texted my sister about the picture.  I didn't want to pester her with questions now, though; being at the hospital is stressful enough.  She was having tests done, I'd know something soon. 

As I puttered around at home after the movie, snatches of words and phrases drifted unsummoned to mind like snowflakes, fluttering to alight gently on whatever I was thinking about.

I lifted the folded towels from the laundry basket. Lillies. No; yellow roses
I had sent her yellow roses once, decades ago, when she was in the hospital.  She hadn't seen any before apparently, and exclaimed over them a lot.  I sent some again years later on some random day, to surprise her at home.

Awhile later, Labels distracted me from my TV-watching.  Labels?  Then I remembered.  Once I'd evolved from disliking 'homemade clothes' and realized what a  blessing it was to have a Mama who could sew whatever outfit one wanted, I had customized labels made to put inside her creations.  For my clothes, the label was "MAMAMADE"; for everybody else, the label contained her name in script, followed by the words "Custom Clothier".   

Fully engaged by an episode of Snapped that I'd recorded, I was interrupted again awhile later:  Hawaii.  I smiled.  Mama often mused about going to, as she pronounced it, Hi-WAH-Ya when I was growing up. When I was in my twenties, I convinced my siblings and we bought her a week-long package to Oahu that she enjoyed with her husband.  

It had been a couple of hours since I'd heard from my sister, so I checked in before going to bed.  I texted my other sister too to ask if she was at the hospital.  "Yes, Mama is here." she responded. DUH!  

The tone of her responses was familiarly condescending, reflecting a oneupmanship often present in exchanges with her.  I cut the interaction short before I began to respond in kind.  I was only seeking clarity since my oldest sister's text seemed to convey a conflicting message. The treatment seemed routine enough, but she'd added: "It doesn't look good."  "Okay. Thanks." I blithely texted,  tossing the phone on the bed.   I was done with getting information third hand. I'd drive to Asheville in the morning. I turned over to pray, and soon after, fell asleep. The last text was timestamped 12:39 am.

The first time I woke in the wee hours on that Tuesday, smiling and stroking my forearm, I didn't look at the clock.  When the phone rang waking me awhile later, the screen read 4:48 a.m. beneath my sister's name.  I realized that I was expecting the call.
My sister said my name calmly.
"Yeah?"  I said.
"Mama has passed." she said.
"Okay." I said.
"I'll talk to you later."  she said.
"Okay." I said.


Marcia Mayne said...

Poignant, Lett. I'm surprised, though, that you had the strength to write. But it's so cathartic.
It was months after my father died that I could put in words the thoughts that had been rolling around in my head, and only snippets have come out since my mom's passing.
I hope that the love you share will keep you and your family strong as you go through the days and years to come.

r. said...

Love is a wonderful thing:
its reward---ask nothing in return.

J u s t B e c a u s e


Anonymous said...

Beautiful words...



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